As we posted a few months ago, we are in the middle of a major project to make Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark responsive. Things are going a little slower than we originally projected, but we now have a target date for beginning our beta process.
Every single interface is being enhanced and improved to support both responsive design and an improved overall experience. And we have taken the time to improve our underlying code in the process, as well. While there are way too many changes to review in one post, I thought it would be cool to go over a few of the upcoming changes you will see when we roll this out.
1. Improved Theme Editor
Customizing the look and feel of your site is much easier in the next version. The most important change is that we are applying much more consistent nomenclature in our CSS classes, which will make it easier for you to understand how to customize things at the CSS level. But aside from that, the sections of the theme are clearer and easier to understand. And there are some handy new tools, like the ability to change the opacity of a background color.
2. More Visual Blog Content
Our blog interfaces will support a more image-centric approach, allowing you to draw your audience in more easily.
3. Creating Content Is Simpler
A big "Create Content" button is available on nearly every page, making it obvious for your users how to add new material to the community. You don't have to go the forums to start a topic, for instance... start any kind of content anywhere you like.
4. Search Integrated in Nav Menu
We are now shooting for the end of August to begin our beta period, when we will bring customers onto our upgrade server so you can start customizing your sites for the new interface. That beta period will likely last 1-2 months and your actual live sites will not be upgraded to the new version until after the beta period ends, so you will have plenty of time to get ready once we enter that beta period.
We're extremely excited about what is coming next. Hoop.la is already an amazing community platform, but it is being taken to a whole new level with this project. Thanks for your patience as we go through this process!
Growing up, I was the new kid quite a bit. The US Army moved my family around several times, once in the middle of a school year. (No, not really fun.)
So I know what I'm talking about when it comes to joining new groups.
There is a definite process by which "new kids" incorporate themselves into an existing community.
Recently, I came across this study from Wiley , which posits six ways people legitimize their membership in a new online community. Wish I'd known these when I was in fourth grade and trying to fit in!
As a community manager, you should be aware of these ways people move from newbie to regular, so that you can facilitate the process each step of the way. Keep in mind that each new member has a different personality, and different reason for participating in the community, so you'll need to be open to all of these concepts.
What do I mean by "legitimize?" I mean that the newcomer's post is replied to, and they begin to be seen as "one of us" by the existing members. This is the first step in forming relationships and habits of returning to the community.
Six Ways People Legitimize Their Membership In a New Online Community
Contextual- new member references older posts within the site to provide context, and shows that he/she is aware of the content that already exists. Facilitate this by offering a "reply with quote" tool or other ways to easily reference existing content.
Testimonial- new member shares personal information with existing members, and tends to use the personal pronoun when posting. Even better if the personal information is also contextual (i.e., relevant to the community). Facilitate this by creating a safe place for self disclosure, and perhaps providing a way for members to introduce themselves in a specific way (rather than asking for a Bio, ask specific questions).
Lurking- member states that he/she has been "lurking" for x amount of time, and thus is aware of the shared history of the other members, relationships, social norms, and context of the community. Facilitate this by displaying member Join dates (which may pre-date their first post by quite a span of time).
Geographical- new member mentions specific place names that are relevant or familiar to the other community members, giving some personal disclosure as well as knowledge of context. This could be especially powerful in a regional community, where a new member can mention neighborhoods or street names and prove that he/she is a local. Facilitate this by offering a way for members to share their geographic location in their profiles. Consider creating a generalized map of members.
Cultural- newcomer uses professional jargon, acronyms, or slang that is relevant to that community, proving that he/she is knowledgeable in that field or culture. Facilitate this by creating tags or categories that group relevant content together (for example, in a medical community, create a HIPAA tag).
External- new member refers to his/her outside social networks, blog pages, websites, or businesses, in order to establish who they are. Existing members can go independently "verify" that the newcomer is in fact who they say they are. Facilitate this by allowing members to use signatures or profile fields to share external information.
How does your community move new members toward becoming regular participants? What tools (technological or psychological) are you using to help that process?
Marketing Above the Noise is an insightful new book from Linda Popky, award-winning marketing consultant and President of Leverage 2 Market Associates. (Disclosure: I was given a digital copy of the book for review purposes.)
As I was reading the book, I was continually struck by how powerful the idea of true community is, when it comes to getting beyond the frenzy/noise of "the next new thing."
Many marketers are rushing around from app to app or tactic to tactic, trying desperately to get noticed in the midst of the maelstrom.
Popky builds the case for going back to fundamentals in marketing, using concepts that have been successful since caveman days. Stopping the frenzy.
These concepts apply to marketing in general, and to building a successful community in specific:
Understand your target audience and their needs.
Create consistent, focused messaging.
Train and empower your employees to deliver on that message.
You can no longer talk "at" your customers.
Conversations are the starting point. Yes, we need to participate and engage with customers. But we also need to provide useful content (not marketing hype) to those engaging in conversations. And we need to show up in the communities where our audiences are gathering online and off.” Excerpt From: Linda J. Popky. “Marketing Above the Noise.” iBooks.
Here are some key ideas for making sure your online community is not "noise":
Offer opportunities to meet in person (conferences, Tweetups, etc.). Shared experiences are one of the most powerful ways to connect people.
If you're accepting suggestions or feedback, have a process for doing something with the information. Follow up and let the community know when you've taken action on their ideas.
Provide useful answers and information, based on your intimate knowledge of your customers' needs.
Forget the idea of "command and control." Give your members/customers a reason to feel pride and ownership in the community.
Use the data at your fingertips to focus your community. Take the numbers and apply them; don't just pump out reports every week.
Internal engagement is as important as external. Don't let the community be a fiefdom that belongs to one person; get everyone from the CEO to the support staff involved.
Marketing Above the Noise will be very helpful for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the social marketing tools and tactics currently available, and wondering where to begin. This well-written guidebook offers a reminder of marketing basics, and then shows a clear path through the noise to business success.
So how do brands work together with consumers to create value in a brand community?
The key to success is to ensure that it’s a two-way street. The brand offers products, benefits, and a platform, and consumers offer innovation, insights, and product co-creation.
The researchers describe four different categories of practice that build value:
Social Networking - members share their behavior and characteristics, and the brand welcomes them, guides them in learning and connecting with other community members.
Brand Community Engagement - the community documents and highlights the personal experiences that members have with the brand’s products.
Impression Management - the community influences the members’ perception of brand activities/events, offers favorable information that can be shared beyond the brand community and evangelized. The community gives a platform for boosting word of mouth, sharing stories, promotional news, and inspiration.
Brand Use - the brand shares information about usage of the brand and responds to community needs/requests to customize the product/brand.
“To achieve value creation for a brand, the initial phase is to figure out the drivers and connection of customer value within the organization and marketplace.”
Learn what creates value for your specific customers.
Then you can bake that into your community strategy, and it will benefit your members as well as your brand.
As of today, we have removed support for signing in to Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark via direct Google sign-in. Previously, there were separate sign-in mechanisms for Google and Google+. One of the benefits of the previous Google sign-in implementation was that it used OpenID 2.0, which meant it required zero configuration for community admins.
Google has deprecated and will soon be removing all support for OpenID 2.0 sign-ins. As a result of this change, it's now impossible to support the zero configuration option for community admins. In the interest of simplifying the configuration options, we are completely removing the standalone Google sign-in option in favor of supporting Google+ as the only Google-enabled sign-in option.
If your site did not have Google sign-ins enabled previously, this change will not impact your community in any way.
If your site did have Google sign-ins enabled previously, any members who have used Google to sign-in will be affected. We have sent automated messages to all affected users of your community to let them know about this sign-in change. We made the process as simple as possible in that we included a direct link to set a new account password in this email for users who have not yet set a password on their account.
Going forward, if you want to support Google sign-ins on your community, you will simply need to use the Google+ sign-in option. You can find this in your control panel under Social Networks. In order to enable Google+ sign-ins, you will need to register your community with Google's APIs via their developer console.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of this, please open a new support topic, and we'll be happy to help you.
We'll be using the Foundation For Sites framework to handle all of the responsiveness. While you do not need to be an expert on responsive design (or Foundation for that matter) to operate your community site, it will behoove you to be familiar enough with it to make sure that your custom header and footer HTML is also responsive (and uses Foundation's classes) so that you don't have a site that is responsive in every way except for the header and footer than you provide.
We'll of course be here to assist you with that transition (and that is also why you will have plenty of time to get your site ready prior to the transition), but if you have some free time, you may want to get acquainted withFoundation. The better you and your team understand it, the better your site's header and footer will be (from a responsive standpoint).
We also plan to use many of Foundation's built-in CSS classes for things like buttons, labels, and nav menus. And in general you will find that the CSS used on each page is much clearer and consistent, with more classes in place simply to make it easier for you to customize specific elements of each page. In fact, each page will have its own unique CSS ID so you can target CSS changes to specific modules or pages.
We're using Foundation's printer-friendly CSS classes to make ALL pages more printer-friendly.
We are decoupling the admin control panel from the main site, from a theme perspective. This means that you will not be able to change the look and feel of the control panel pages themselves, but this will mean that if you accidentally apply some malformed HTML/CSS to your theme or display settings that prevents pages from loading completely, you will still be able to access your control panel to fix it. Since the control panel is only for admins anyway, this seemed like a proper tradeoff.
We are ditching image icons pretty much entirely, in exchange for icon fonts. The advantage here is that icons will always be scaled properly to match the size of the corresponding text, which makes everything more visually appealing, no matter what size fonts you use for your theme. It also means that you can use CSS to change the color (and more) of the icons. Thus, changing the color of all or particular icons is a snap using CSS, with this approach. We'll be usingFont Awesomefor our stock icons, but you could use custom CSS to swap in your own custom font icons, if you want. Thus, there is no loss in flexibility... it's just much easier for you to make stylistic changes to the icons. Theoretically, pages will load faster, as well, with this approach.
Don't let these details scare you in any way. Everything will still be extremely easy to use (in fact, far easier to customize), but I want to make sure that those that care about nitty-gritty details can stay informed as we progress.
Many online communities exist solely to serve a very serious business purpose.
Technical support, communities of practice, employee intranets...all are there for a specific reason that doesn't involve kittens.
Don't you love it when your doctor's office has balloons for your children? When you attend a business conference and they have a photo booth with crazy sunglasses? When you see people enjoying their serious jobs, like this dancing Dover policeman?
Just because your community is serving a serious purpose doesn't mean you can't have a little fun. In fact, getting to know the real people behind the avatars is a solid relationship-building tool. It's much easier to work with Joe from Accounting if you happen to know he's into geocaching.
Here are tips for incorporating some personality in your business community:
Create a special off-topic area, whether it's a "Just Conversation" forum or a "Watercooler" chatroom. They're going to be talking about the latest episode of House of Cards anyway, why not give them a way to do it within your community?
Be sure to set some ground rules and clear expectations, especially if it's a workplace community. Do you want to discourage profanity, political discussions, or non-constructive criticism? State that up-front.
Imagery rules. Make a space for members to share photos and videos of their adventures. Perhaps you could even mix in some corporate event pictures, if you have a company retreat or events away from your workplace. Shared memories are critical to building trust.
Show your corporate personality as well. Try not to hide behind generic avatars and an "Administrator" title. Let the people who are managing the community reveal themselves and become part of the conversation.
Allow the community to name the off-topic area, so that it reflects their shared interests.
Do you run a business community? How do you build relationships between your members?
“What if someone posts naked pictures on our site?”
User-generated content should always be subject to Ronald Reagan’s favorite Russian saying, “trust, but verify.” Allow your visitors to share content, but always make sure someone is monitoring in the background. And provide tools so that your members can report inappropriate content when necessary.
“What if my competitors join the site and spy on me?”
That’s why God invented private communities. If your community content is full of things you don’t want your competitors to see, lock the front door and vet the members when they register. Better yet, use single sign-on and tap into your existing customer database for logins.
“We’re in a regulated industry. The lawyers won’t let us have a community.”
Listen, the legal team has a tough job. They’re just trying to protect you while following the gazillion different regulations that might apply to you and your community members. Why not bring them into the process at the very beginning, so that they can help you build a community that meets the standards, rather than seeking approval after it’s live? My friend Gigi Peterkin of the NephCure Foundation offered that fantastic insight based on her experience with communities in regulated industries.
You may hear the fears expressed above, or different ones, when you start to build your community strategy. Don't let that deter you from using one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. An online community can be a valuable resource for your customers, partners, and fans.
This blog post was written as part of the Spin Sucks Scavenger Hunt. I hope you're playing along...you could win some cool prizes. Welcome new visitors!
As an extra bonus, purchase a copy of Spin Sucks the book, one of the best resources on PR and communications I’ve read in the last couple of years. If you buy a copy before March 4 and email a copy of your receipt to email@example.com, they’ll send you a little package of surprises, including a sticker, a personalized/signed nameplate for your book, and other fun goodies.
Disclosure: I was given an advance free digital copy of this book for review purposes; however that in no way altered this blog post or my previous review. My personal story of guerrilla digital PR is mentioned in the book.
She's running a community of practice with a very important mission.
Jane Stevens is the Founder/Editor ofACEsConnection.com, a thriving community of practice aimed at preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and changing systems to stop traumatizing already traumatized people.
She shares the story of how her community became the impressive resource it is today.
Tell us your “founding story;” what made you decide to start ACEs?
Research has shown that adverse childhood experiences are the No. 1 cause of most of our chronic diseases, as well as mental illness, being violent and a victim of violence. That comes from 20 years of research that’s prompted a new understanding of human development and how toxic stress from adversity experienced early in childhood actually affects our behavior and becomes incorporated into our biology. So, as a science journalist, when I began to report about this, I knew that if communities were to achieve their health goals (reducing obesity, smoking, drinking to excess, drug abuse, domestic violence, heart disease, cancer, etc.), they would need to learn about this and address it.
There was no central place to learn about the research or how people were implementing it, or a place to share information about it. So, in January 2012 I launched ACEsTooHigh.com, a news site for the general public, and ACEsConnection.com, a social network for people who were implementing — or thinking about implementing — trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on ACES research.
What do you think was the spark that made your original community get traction and thrive?
ACEsConnection grew slowly, as befits a community-of-practice social network. By May 2013, we passed 1,000 members at the same time that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the first National ACEs Summit. That was an important turning point. More people learned about it, and as more people became involved, it became more useful. In addition, RWJF learned about ACEsConnection. Early last year, they provided significant funding to grow the ACEs Connection Network, to give it the support we needed to continue to grow. By May of this year, we should be 4,000 members strong.
We continue to focus on slow growth, so that we can continue to respond to the needs of members and provide the resources they need to make changes in their communities.
You migrated from the Ning platform to Hoop.la; how did you handle that transition with your members? Any tips for others who might be considering a platform move?
We began alerting them to the move a month prior, provided updates in all of our communications with them (we do a daily digest, a weekly roundup, plus additional posts on the network), and sent out an email to all members twice before the day of the transition.
Once we made the transition, we sent out an email alerting them to the new platform, with instructions on how to sign in again. We posted a few how-tos, to which we’ve been adding since.
A week after the transition, we made sure that people knew we were available to assist.
Advice: Don’t change how the site looks right away. That’s what people seemed to be most worried about. If you’re planning on making design changes, make sure people get used to the platform first, then make changes gradually, if you can.
The transition went SO smoothly. Great wonderful kudos to the Hoop.la team, who answered all of our questions promptly, guided us through, and were very patient with our (continuing) learning curve. Our community is SO much happier on the Hoop.la platform. The more I use it, the more grateful I am that we made the move.
What’s your daily routine like? Are you proactive in keeping the conversation going on the site?
Our network comprises a daily digest of news, reports and research about adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed/resilience-building practices; a weekly roundup; a resource center, and groups. The groups are the part of the site we’re focusing on growing this year. There are interest-based groups (ACEs in Education, ACEs in Pediatrics), and geographic-based groups (cities, counties and states).
The network is less about conversation than people working together on projects. We support a lot of work that occurs offline in communities. Last year we established our processes for starting and launching groups; this year we’re focusing on how to grow groups, with that combination of offline and online work. This week, for example, another community manager and I met with a large group of people in San Diego to officially launch the San Diego County ACEs Connection group. Two community managers joined the monthly meeting of the Sonoma County ACEs Connection group.
Our online activities include cross-posting blogs from the main site into groups whose members would be particularly interested in the information; providing links and contacts for members; posting comments to members’ posts; adding information to the main and groups’ resource sections; recruiting new members; helping communities build their groups; planning for in-person monthly meetings, etc. Members use the discussion section to post questions to members, which we include in the daily digest. Any discussions that occur usually appear in comments about a blog post. We plan on doing surveys and chats in groups this year.
What’s been your proudest moment as a community founder?
Many proud moments, when people tell me that they found a person, or received support or found information that they needed to move ahead in their communities with educating people about this research so that they can take the first steps toward implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices in all sectors of their community, including health, education, juvenile justice, business, faith-based and civic.
What’s your biggest challenge?
At this point, learning how best to grow the groups. And, of course, finding more hours in the day.
How are you measuring the success of the community, are you using any metrics? (If you’d like to share any numbers, we’d love it!)
Our site is less about the number of discussions or comments than it is what people do with the information, and if it speeds up their efforts. Those are more difficult metrics to figure out, and we’re working on how to do that.
Does your community have a big goal for 2015?
To grow the groups — we hope to see another 50 or 60 community groups start this year.
(Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us! ~Rosemary)
We've started work on a major new upgrade forHoop.la,UBB Forum, andQuestionSharkthat will make all pages completely "responsive". If you are not familiar with the term "Responsive Design", here are some resources for you:
In a nutshell, it means that the user interface automatically adapts to fit any size of device. It also means a much better user experience.
This is becoming increasingly critical as we see the continuing evolution of smart devices. Phones are getting bigger; there are constantly new styles and types of tablets; and then you have hybrid devices that combine tablets with a desktop experience. People want to access content in lots of different ways and so our platform needs to be able to automatically adjust, to be future-proof, if you will.
Currently, we have a "mobile" interface that is automatically accessed by anyone using a mobile browser. But having one mobile interface is problematic because even among mobile browsers there are vastly different screen sizes and resolutions. The mobile interface provides a decent experience with more focused choices for users, but it is also very limiting because many features are missing in the effort to keep things simple for the smaller screens sizes.
By switching to a truly responsive approach, however, we can design our interfaces one way and have them adjust automatically depending on the screen size, without any loss of features as you scale down to smaller screens. Thus, there will no longer be a separate "mobile" interface at all when we roll this out. Ultimately, this will also lead to faster development of new features in the future, as well.
We actually made our product websites for Hoop.la, UBB Forum, and QuestionShark responsive last fall, but it is a much bigger undertaking to convert entire applications like ours... and that is why this will be one of our most ambitious (time-consuming) software releases.
We're literally going to have to redo every page in the system. The underlying HTML will be different. The theme editor you have now will be much different. We will have all new CSS. This means that when this change happens, you'll need to create a new theme and new custom CSS (if you use custom CSS). But, fear not, we'll give you plenty of time to make such changes via a staging area that we will make available to everyone prior to actually doing the upgrade. And we'll also be here to assist you as much as possible as you get your site ready for the transition.
Our themes and underlying CSS will be cleaner, easier to understand, and more flexible. And your community site will of course look AWESOME no matter how your community members are accessing your site.
All of this is said now to warn you that our software update cycle will be a little different for the next 3-4 months. Usually we try to do at least one major release per month. But we can't follow that model while we work on this. Things will seem a little quieter, but rest assured something big is on the way and we're confident it will result in a MUCH better experience for everyone when we are done.
We'll provide updates as we can, but please note that we likely not provide a firm delivery date until we get very close to the end of the project. April/May is the current expected timeframe, but that could change.
Are you proactively reaching out to your community members on a regular basis?
One of the keys to a successful community is how deeply you are embedded within your members' minds and habits.
While most of your members will be subscribed to the content that interests them, there's a simple way to stay top-of-mind. Send a weekly or monthly email. (Just make sure it's useful information, don't be tempted to self-promote or you'll be relegated to the spam folder.)
Ideas for what you can include in a community email:
Statistics on popular or trending content
Start a new conversation
Introduce new members
Talk about industry news that affects the community
Ask a question/send a survey
Solicit photos or videos
If you have a creative/artistic member, ask them to do a cartoon
Share any social media or news mentions of your community
Help members promote their own projects or news
Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or family news
Depending on how transparent you want to be, you could share progress toward a specific goal. For example, if you're trying to build up community membership, share the number of new members. If you are hoping to encourage peer-to-peer support, share the number of resolved questions in the past week. You could even share metrics that may not be obvious to members, like number of page views (check your Google Analytics).
If you are a Hoop.la Pro customer using the Advanced Reporting option, you can grab any of your charts or graphs and include them in your newsletter too.
To send an email to members, you must be an Admin on the site. Simply go to Manage Members, choose all (or a subset), and either compose directly in the WYSIWYG box or export the list to the email client of your choice.
Bonus points if you give your recurring email a snappy name, like the "Weekly Bugle" or "Community Buzz." You could even ask your community members to name it!
How do you stay top-of-mind with your community members?
Today, we rolled out a software update forHoop.la,UBB Forum, andQuestionSharkthat focuses on improvements for the premium membership features, though there are some other changes as well.
Highlights of the release:
1. Premium Membership Transaction-Related Emails Now Co-Branded
Previously, most of the transaction-related emails a purchaser received from our FeePod system were issued outside of your website and ONLY had FeePod branding. Now, we have co-branded these email so that you can include your own site logo in the emails (in addition to the FeePod logo), which will make it easier for your premium memberships to associate the transactions with your site.
In addition, you have more control over the content of the emails because you can actually customize the wording via the Wordlets control panel. You can also preview each email type that is sent in a new "Emails" section in your Premium Membership settings.
Admins canget copies of all of these emails to stay on top of their premium members. Note that real names and addresses are excluded in the copies we send you to protect this information (since it is confidential). You can enable/disable these notification in your Notification Settings.
2. Premium Membership Promo Now Customizable
One option you have as an admin is to promote your premium membership via a promo that appears when users visit your site. Previously, that promo was hard-coded though and you could not change the look and feel or content of the promo. Now, you can completely replace the stock promo with whatever HTML content you like. You can do this in your Premium Membership settings. (You can also preview your custom promo there as well.)
3. Premium Membership Reporting
Admins can now download CSV reports for any time period. These reports list all transactions for the designated period. This is a new submenu page under the Premium Membership section of your Admin Control Panel.
4. Community Logo
Previously, we required that you upload a Community Logo if you enabled Groups or Portfolios for your account, because that image was displayed in the group/portfolio headers. We are expanding the use of the Community Logo, however, so that it can be displayed on Sign In, Registration, and Premium Membership Order pages, allowing you to utilize your branding more prominently, if desired. This logo is only required, however, if you enable Groups or Portfolios. This Community Logo is set in Display Settings in your Admin Control Panel.
5. Paid-Through Date Added To Member Data CSV
If you are using premium memberships, you'll be pleased to know that when you download your Member Data (via the Manage Members page in your Admin Control Panel) we now include the Paid-Through Date for each member.
6. Improved Premium Membership Management Options
We've improved the process for giving out complimentary premium memberships. Just go to your Premium Membership settings, click on the Members tab, and then click on the "Add Complimentary Premium Memberships" link.
You can also now cancel any premium membership yourself, also on that same page, just be clicking the trashcan icon next to the premium member's name on that list.
Finally, we are displaying more information about each premium member, including each member's status and renewal date.
7. Minimum Premium Membership Fee You Charge Reduced
We've lowered the minimum fee that you can charge for premium memberships. Now you can charge as little as $5 for any supported time period (monthly, quarterly, or annual).
8. Inline Image Moderation Supported
We've added a new Content Moderation rule that allows you to moderate content that contains any kind of embeddedmedia, including images, videos, iframes, etc. This is not the same as attachments (which was already supported). This can be really useful if your site caters to minors, forinstance, so that you can review each post that has an image, for instance to make sure it is appropriate for the audience. Look for the "With Inline Media" option under Special Condition when creating your content moderation rule.
9. New Manage Members Filter Allows You To Exclude Specific Permissions Circles
We've added a new search parameter in the Manage Members control panel that allows you to exclude a specific permissioncircle (or your premium members) when performing the search. For example, this could be useful for finding all members who are NOT premium members already (and then perhaps sending an email to those folks.
As usual, there are many other minor changes, bug fixes and improvements.
If you're looking to decrease your customer support costs and give your customers better, faster issue resolution, you may want to look at increasing your self-service options.
SoftwareAdvice.com, a research site for knowledge management systems, recently conducted a survey of 170 customer service managers. The survey found that options like FAQs, knowledge bases, discussion forums, and other formats positively affect the quantity and resolution of first-line customer support.
Yes, customers still gravitate toward picking up the phone, but they don't really enjoy voicemail-based self service (probably because the reason they picked up the phone is that they didn't want to do self-service).
The chart below illustrates the specific positive impacts that self-service tools can have on customer support. It's important to consider, however, that unless you're tracking the performance of each tool, you won't have any idea of this impact.
If you're using a help desk platform like QuestionShark or others, be sure to build in a process of measurement on the back end. Establish the goal (decrease incoming voice calls? increase "resolved" questions?) and then routinely measure progress.
You might also consider using surveys as a tool to measure the effectiveness of your self-service options. Ask your customers if they are getting what they need!
We just rolled out an update for Hoop.la that adds support for multiple calendars per site. This also applies to groups within a Hoop.la site. Each group can have multiple calendars. Previously, we only supported one calendar per site or group.
The new stuff in this update:
Calendar admins can create additional calendars and users can view all calendars together or filter to view a particular calendar only.
You may notice in the screenshot above that there is a separate birthday calendar and chat event calendar. Previously, those were options on the one calendar. Now they are their own dedicated calendars so that users can filter specifically for those event types very easily.
Each calendar you create has its own notification options. Please note, however, that the birthday and chat event calendars are "special" in that they are auto-populated. Events are not added to them manually and users cannot follow those special calendars.
Calendar List Mode
The calendar now has two distinct display modes- a new default Event List mode and the old Calendar Grid mode. The new Event List mode displays all events in a vertical list on the page, with the ability to control the time frame.
Calendar List Widget
We've added a new Calendar List widget that allows you to display a list of all of your site's calendars.
Support For Moderation Rules
You can specify specific calendars in your Content Moderation rules.
Calendar Specific Permissions
To provide you with the utmost flexibility and control, each calendar has its own permissions for viewing and adding events to the calendar. And you can even make these permissions "premium" if you like.
There were other minor improvements and bug fixes in this release, as well.
This is a new section in your Admin Control Panel (Manage / Admin Control Panel / Web Space) that allows admins to upload files that they need for the operation of the community site. The primary use case would be images that you want to use for your header or footer, or perhaps for a custom page. You might also use it to upload a CSS stylesheet, as well.
You can upload ANY kind of file, but files will not be executable (meaning that you can not run a script). All files that you upload will be world accessible; absolutely no security will be placed on the files. There is a per-file size limit of 100 MB, but there is no limit on the number of files you upload al(though, if your plan has a disk space limit, these files will count against that overall limit).
To reiterate, this is an admin-only area and is not designed for file sharing. There are two new admin permissions- View Web Space and Manage Web Space. The "manage" permissions controls who can add, edit, or delete files in the Web Space.
2. Embeddable Chat Rooms
Hoop.la Only: Chat rooms have feature parity with chat events now, in that they too can be embedded on other sites/pages. Look for the embed icon at the bottom of your chat room. One way to utilize this new feature is to create a "chat box" on your home page, using one of your chat rooms. See example below.
3. Improved Member Selector
There are several features where you need to choose community members (for instance, when creating a dialog or, for an admin, when inviting people). We've improved that experience a bit by displaying an icon when a member is selected. Previously, we relied on shading to indicate selections, but if your theme had very subtle shading differences, that could be hard to interpret.
As usual, there were numerous other minor improvements and big fixes in this update. Should you have questions, please post to our support site.
We've just rolled out a MAJOR update for Hoop.la, and UBB Forum. The focus of this update was on adding support for a new content type- Surveys!
We previously supported "polls", but only as an optional attachment for forum topics. The feature set was limited and, because polls were always simply subcomponents of forum topics, they could never really stand out on their own.
We've improved that in a big way today! Here is a sampling of features:
Per Survey Permissions: You can set permissions for who can take the survey and also who can view the survey results.
Control When Results Can Be Viewed: You can prevent users from viewing results until after they take the survey, if you like.
Set Survey End Time: If your survey is time-sensitive, you can apply an end date/time, after which no additional survey responses will be permitted.
Write-In Answers: For each question you create, you can optionally allow write-in answers.
Support for Multi-Select: For each question, you can force voters to choose one answer or, optionally, allow them to choose more than one answer.
Image-Based Answers: A picture is worth a thousand worths. You can format any question so that each answer has an associated image, if you like.
See Who Voted For What: Survey Moderators can always see who voted for each answer. And you can optionally permit your general members to see who voted for each answer, as well.
Survey Data CSV: Survey Moderators can download a CSV file that lists all data associated with the survey, including a breakdown of voters per answer, specific write-in answers, and more.
Embed Surveys: Each survey has an "embed" option, that allows you to easily copy and paste a code snippet to insert a survey on another site.
Widgets: We've added two new widgets- one for displaying your most recent surveys and another for featuring a specific survey. The latter is ideal for displaying a complete survey on your home page, for instance.
Featured Surveys: You can mark any survey as featured and they will be featured at the top of your Surveys page.
Control Survey Graph Color: We've added a new Theme section that allows you to set the color of bar graphs used on the Survey Results page.
Surveys Control Panel: There is a new Surveys control panel for admins. This is located as a submenu section under the Modules part of your Admin Control Panel. On this page, you can set default survey permissions, and much more.
New Survey Reports in Advanced Reporting: We've added some surveys-specific reports to our optional Advanced Reporting section in Analytics.
Note: for all existing sites, your old "polls" have been automatically converted to "surveys" and we included links to the surveys on the forum topics where the polls originated. Thus, no polls have been lost in the upgrade!
Also note that by default creation of surveys is restricted to Super Admins. You can loosen them up and let others (or all members) create surveys via your site permissions.
That's Not All
We didn't stop with surveys, though. Here are some other new things that were added:
"All Topics" lists now include forum name: When viewing a list of topics across all forums (or across an entire category), we now include the forum name as a reference.
Printer-Friendly Option For Forum Topics and Dialogs: we now support a "printer-friendly" link for printing an entire topic or dialog, as well for printing a single reply in a topic or dialog.
The Statistics control panel is now called "Analytics".
Numerous other bug fixes and improvements.
Phew... that was a lot! If you have any questions about the new surveys (or anything else), please post to our support site!
We're very excited about a brand new content module we are adding for Hoop.la and UBB Forum in the very near future. With Surveys, you'll be able to gauge community opinion like never before.
Currently, in Hoop.la and UBB Forum, forum topics have an optional "poll" feature. You can append a simple poll to any forum topic, but those polls are always buried within the topic and cannot be featured on their own.
The new Surveys feature is its own content module, with a much beefier feature set, including support for surveys with end dates, control over when results can be revealed, write-in options, and much more. We'll have the complete details when we roll out the feature next week.
Note that Surveys will be included on all plans at no additional cost. Also note that, once the change is made, forum topics will no longer support polls as an option. Instead, surveys will be created as standalone pieces of content. Existing topics that have polls will have those polls automatically spun off as "surveys" and we will link to the new survey pages from the topic pages, so nothing will be lost.
Here is a sample screenshot of a Survey to whet your appetite until next week:
Much more to show you next week!
Update: This release is now scheduled for Monday, October 13th.
First, what’s your goal? Why does your community exist?
Before you implement any type of platform, consider your goal in starting an online community. Here are some possibilities:
Increase traffic/page views on your proprietary website
Promote new product or property
Support offline sales (brick and mortar)
Get ideas and feedback from audience/customers
Streamline internal communications
Initiate a two way dialogue with partners
Your answer to the “why” question should inform your decisions about which platform to use, as well as which features of the platform to enable or disable.
For example, if you’re creating an online community for customer support, you need to consider privacy functions, so that members can share login or license information if necessary. And you may want your questions and answers to be able to stick around as a knowledge base for future inquiries.
Another example is promoting a new product; you might want to be able to have a live chat event to spark immediate reaction and word of mouth for your launch. Can chat participants tweet directly from the chat interface? That will help facilitate the spread of your message.
Imagine you are new in town, and you are invited to a party in a huge mansion. The mansion has dozens of rooms, and it's very very quiet. Do you feel intimidated? Are you going to grab an appetizer and sit in one of the empty rooms waiting for someone else to arrive?
The empty mansion is a mistake some beginning community owners make; they create dozens of categories and forums, on every subject imaginable, thinking this will encourage participation. Instead, it creates a confusing, intimidating entry for newcomers, especially if most of the forums have no content yet. But what's a new community manager to do?
Here are five quick tips that will get any new community organized for success:
1.Don't build an "empty mansion" - limit your number of forums at first. I like to start with no more than three if it's a totally new community. You have plenty of room to add forums as the community expands. It's always great to be responsive to members' requests for new forums. Same thing with additional features like chat or blogging; start with the minimum viable community at first.
2.Leave some content public; don't lock it all down - even if you're starting a private community, it's a good idea to leave some content public, even if it's read-only. You want to give visitors a reason to join. If they see engaging content, they'll want to stick around.
3.Be welcoming, but don't be a "Tom" from Myspace - auto-welcomes are an OK last resort, but it's even better to have a live human notice new members and engage with them for real!
4.Don't over-seed - in many new communities, the forums are full of posts by the community manager and his/her colleagues, hoping to spark conversation. If you have to "seed," do it sparingly and try to ask questions that will encourage other members to participate. Even better to get your core founders to start conversations before the community goes live.
5.Set the tone from the start with good guidelines - you need to consider the vibe of the community. Hopefully you already have an audience in mind, and they already have something in common that will draw them together. Use your community guidelines to establish from the start how things will run. Perhaps include a moderator welcome as one of the first posts, in which your mods can introduce themselves and explain their moderation style.
Promote the living daylights out of it!
So, you’ve hit the big red button and launched your community. You will hear crickets chirping unless you tell the world about your new space. Hopefully you have core founders who were pre-registered, and an audience of some kind before you decided to launch (viewers, readers, or customers), so the first thing to do is invite them.
Send a nice invitation to your email list
For brick and mortar, put up signs in your physical locations; can use QR codes too
Promote your community on all corporate items (business cards, stationery, email sigs, profile pages for other social networks)
Tweet interesting content from the community; start your own hashtag
Promote within your Facebook groups and newsfeed
Include links to your community on your LinkedIn corporate profile (or personal profile if appropriate)
Start participating and visiting other sites where your target audience gathers (be careful not to just jump in and promote your own thing...establish yourself first and let it happen organically)
If you are already running traditional ads (radio, TV, online banner ads) include your community in there as well
Make it easy to find; don’t bury your calls to participate within your own website
Make it a priority for your entire staff to help draw people into the community
Do you have access to celebrities? Use them to draw interest. Visitors love the ability to get insider information or interact with people who are normally not accessible.
Some Specific Ideas
Be sure you make the community mostly about the members and less about your business. Find ways to recognize new members publicly and highlight their content. People flock to places that offer them an ego boost. Consider highlighting good audience answers from the forums, promoting them via your social updates.
Focus intensely on responding to real member questions, not so much on creating new questions. It looks uninviting to have all of recent activity coming from one staffer.
Bring a content widget to the front page of the website, to highlight great community content and entice new members. Consider showing new member photos on the front page...people love to be “famous.”
Be sure to cross-promote. From the podcast pages, there should be a link to the forums as well (there’s already a link to Facebook and twitter feeds). And I would call the link “comment on this podcast” not something like “TechStuff Forum. I would also post the podcast files themselves as a post in the forum, so that then comments can be made directly to that thread, if members desire.